tv [untitled] April 10, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm EDT
before. i don't quite know how it would work and how the united states and other countries in the west could really help ensure that there wouldn't be even an accidental escalation. if you look at what's happening now in the middle east on the conventional side, you really see a proxee a series of proxy battles coming on between iran and countries like saudi arabia throughout the region. just currently in syria weighing in on different sides of the conflict unfolding. so i do not know if you had multiple nuclear powers involved how traditional deterrence models would actually work in that case. i don't even think we want to go down that path. that would be my main concern with the argument in favor of deterrence. >> i think that they would work because states would be fearing extinction, right? i mean, what's happening between saudi arabia and iran is sort of a low-grade nasty nibbling at the edge of this cold war. they don't like each other very much. they are trying to undermine one
another. but if the danger is national extinction, then i think their behavior will sober up. there is a clarifying logic of extinction. i don't think this is unique to the west. i don't think it's unique to any particular region, and i think it would apply in the middle east just as it would anywhere else. but again, i just point out, all of these hypotheses are based on a sequence of nightmare scenarios. the first is that iran is not satisfied with a virtual arsenal. and i think that's pretty much what it's after. that it goes full nuclear. that saudi arabia in the face of american security commitment says we don't care. we're going to go get a nuclear weapon ourselves. we're going to buy one from pakistan. that's what people worry about. in response to that, turkey and egypt would go nuclear. there would be this automatic cascade. there's a lot of ifs in this sentence. i'm very, very hesitant about supporting military action on a series of ifs. >> just to points. one is a general point that i'm
aware of the fact that for once i'm not in academia so i can't make many general points. i have to have a point. there seems to be two uses of history. you can use history to say there's ten cases that went this way so it's more likely the 11th case will also go this way or say there's ten cases that went this way but this time it's different. and i think the role of -- to the extent they're useful in this debate. they study the path. spend long hours at this and then, therefore, they should be telling us what it is the historical record and the theorys we have to indicate. and in all these cases, including very particularly in matt's own scholarly work, they indicate that it wouldn't be such a big problem. the second point i would like to make is that i agree that a nuclear middle east or a nuclear iran is worse than a non-nuclear middle east or non-nuclear iran. but those are not the two scenarios we are contemplating. the two scenarios are whether a strike is a better idea than
acquiescing to iran nuclearization or not. that is, where is the middle east is better thafr a strike grancy against iran or where is the middle east better after a strike where iran will go nuclear? i think the mechanisms for stability that jamie mentioned that derive from a nuclear iran middle east would be greater if we strike iran preentively. thank you. >> we'll go to more questions. let's go on the aisle there. the tan/brownish jacket and blue shirt. >> hi. my name is nema. i'm a graduate student. thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. in the previous panel, it was mentioned that iran had the capability to currently produce four nuclear weapons and mr.
kroenig you inferred they don't have -- they don't yet have the capability to produce any nuclear weapons yet but they're getting close to producing their first one. so if someone could clarify that for me. and if this was to go forward, what -- this was kind of touched on before -- but what are the chances that israel would really go this alone and really kind gf at an iranian strike in the face of the u.s. saying they're not absolutely in line with supporting them? >> so where is iran today? how far away is iran today? and will israel go, do you think? >> well, according to the last iaea quarterly report which is very interesting in a lot of ways, iran has on the order of 109 kilograms of uranium hexofluoride which has been enriched. if you took another step at enriching that up to 90%, which is how we judge weapons grade, you are looking at the lower bound of one bomb. about 15 kilograms.
so if they took that step, it's probably somewhere between six months and a year. now i should -- to get that one weapon. the number four comes from, iran has a much larger amount of lower enriched uranium which they would have to subsequently go up to 20% and then go up to 90% and then you could do some math and see how they get four weapons out of that large stockpile. but that would be tough to do. the other point about weaponization is if iran wanted to break out quickly, it's not simply a matter of deciding to go to 90%. you have to do the enrichment up to 90%. you have to convert that gas back into metal, which is not an easy process. you have to machine the pit basically that you need for the explosive device. and presumably you'd want to test it. this is not something -- in some case, or else it's an idle threat that we have this thing. maybe you do. maybe you don't.
we didn't start caring about north korea until they tested it. you have to go through all of these steps just to get a device. that's not something that you're going to do between iaea visits. that means kicking the inspectors out, leaving the mpt and that would be something that we would see, our intelligence capabilities notwithstanding. that would be pretty remarkable. so iran's behavior up until now seems to me to be a country that wants to be in the scientific place where they can break out if they so choose in the future. i don't think they've made that choice. they just want to have that latent capability. your second question was about the -- was israel and the united states. can you just repeat it? >> i'm not an oddsmaker. >> i'll take both of those up. my colleagues have raised this idea that iran is going to stop
at a virtual arsenal. we can wish that is the case. i don't see any reason to believe that is the case. iran has been very clearly that its two primary strategic goals are to continue to exist, which they think that means being able to deter a major u.s. or israeli military attack, and their second goal, and their own strategy documents that they published in public is to become the most dominant state in the middle east. okay. so my colleagues think that they'll stop at this kind of japan model where you have a lot of heu and the ability to enrich. but i don't think the japan mod cell going to deter a u.s. or israeli attack. i don't think it makes you the most dominant in the region. i take them at their word. they need weapons. so i think they are playing it smart in terms of the way they move forward. they might stop short for a while but i think that eventually they're going to weaponize. i think there's very little reason to believe they're going to stop at this latent capability. in terms of israel's decision, so this is something that maybe didn't come out enough in the
talk, but the israeli option and the u.s. option are very different. the major difference being that the united states has much greater capability. much greater ability to inflict lasting damage on iran's nuclear program. so i think on balance, actually, the israeli military option is not a good one. i'm not an advocate of an israeli strike. i think of the greater damage we can inflict that on balance the benefits outweigh the cost. in terms of whether israel will go, the problem is their window for effective military action is rapidly closing because they have less of an ability to hit the barrier under ground, burr fleed facilities and as iran follows through on these plans to do more and more enrichment work at home, israel sees its window for effective action closing. so i think it's very likely that in the next six months or so if we don't get a deal and israel isn't absolutely convinced that the united states will take action if necessary later on, which i think is going to be a very hard case to make, that israel will take action.
so i do think that there's -- it's difficult to say, but to put a point estimate on it but there's a high probability there will be a conflict this year. >> matt covered most of the points i was going to make. going back to one of the earlier questions about whether the u.s. can prevent israel from striking in the coming months. part of it is whether the israelis trust this president or a newly elected republican president to take action. but at least with this administration, as much as it looks like this administration might be re-elected, i think it's going to be difficult for the current israeli government to have a lot of confidence in president barack obama's willingness to -- when all the chips are down, to act if the israelis really feel it's necessary. and because they do have this as matt referenced, what ehud barak has referred to a zone of immunity because of their limited military capabilities, i
think there's a decent likelihood they'll strike in the coming months. i don't think that this administration can do anything more than it's already done over recent years or the previous administrations have done to convince the israelis otherwise. just because i do think that the israeli assessment which seems similar to our assessment is that iran is getting increasingly close to at least having that capacity to make a final push towards a nuclear weapon if it's so designed. >> just two quick points. one is i, surprise, surprise, agreeing with matt on both. one is that i don't think the latent capability is a highly likely outcome. i think it's a low probability toward which we should work and i think it's a probability that decreases if we strike iran. so i think the most likely outcome of not striking is iranian nuclearization. i just think we can contain that. the second point is i think israel has not only for operational reasons to strike before the summer, because their window closes to successfully strike. it's also politically a very interesting time for them to do so because there's one thing
that's worse for israel than an obama administration, which is a second term obama administration. and israeli strike on iran during the summer puts president obama in quite a tight corner because if you support the strike, and the u.s. will be dragged in one way or another if you support the strike, you lose votes on the left. if you don't support the strike you lose votes at the center. so it's a very pragmatic situation from the point of view of the president. >> just very quickly on this point. i don't know how much coercive leverage we have over israel, but one thing to bear in mind. it's at not all about president obama. president obama can change the tone or substance of his rhetoric but doesn't control aid. congress controls aid. so there's an important point to remember that the president is somewhat inhibited by taking a firm stand against israel. the money is going to flow. >> all right. more questions. let's go -- let's see.
somewhere in the back. the far back corner over there. yes, the gentleman. >> hi. joe storm, former coto intern, now working in corporate finance. just a quick question for the interventionist side. quick question for the left side of the table, the intervention. sorry. how can we be certain that we will not be dragged into another iraq/afghanistan-like scenario after getting involved in iran, after a strike? >> so the tell me how this ends question is the formulation there. >> yeah, i mean, i'm certainly only advocating basically a more extensive air campaign than i think the united states military would already plan if it was pursuing a limited strike. so, yes, that could lead to
regime collapse, and it's actually partly why i'm advocating it. there could be chaos and a lot of uncertainty in the aftermath. now that does not mean that the united states would be able to be completely hands-off as we have been in the case of libya, for instance, and never putting boots on the ground or that there would be no international force to help ensure some sort of stability. but, you know, i don't think anyone -- i haven't really read any arguments of anyone advocating ground invasion of iran. so i don't know how we would get dragged into an iraq or afghanistan-style operation because you would consciously need to, i think, be advocating that there would be a large occupying force which is certainly not what i'm advocating. >> can i ask a question? >> i certainly understand the iraq analogies. but, you know, there was a professor at oxford university who wrote a great book 15 years or so ago called "analogies of
war." he said people often reason by analogy and foreign policy, you know, what are the lessons of munich, of vietnam, the lessons of iraq? and he argued that it was almost always a mistake to do so because people seized on these superofficial similarities and missed the underlying differences and similarities. so i think it's misleading to do so. i understand the superficial similarities but there are important differences. the first is that, iran is much closer to a nuclear weapon now than saddam hussein was in 2003. and we know that because, again, international inspectors are on the ground running detailed reports every three months about what iran has. and again, iran is, according to experts, according to david albright, respected nuclear expert here in town, about four months from having enough material for its first bomb if it makes the decision to do so. so much closer than saddam hussein was. second, the operation we're talking about is very different. this is what jamie got to.
the reason iraq was so expensive and so costly in blood and treasure is because we put 100,000 troops there and stayed for ten years. no one is talking about that kind of operation in iran. the kind of operation i'm talking about is bombing. a few key facilities and the air defenses you would need to get to those facilities. so this is a limited strike that, depending on iranian retaliation, could be over in days or weeks, not a decades-long ground war. >> josh? >> a quick follow-up on what regime change would actually look like and what we would do in the aftermath. i'm very dubious of regime change. the last decade has caused me to be very dubious of this. you're talking about undoing an existing political order. no matter how odious or rotten it is, it is in place and is in charge and they have procedures for doing things like making and storing fissile material. in the event of rejeemp change, those would be in debt. so in that case, it strikes me
you can't just be happy with regime change because if they've done all of this enrichment up until now and they've done all this nuclear work, that stuff is still going to be there in the irk vent of a regime change. would you be in favor of sending some force to, say, guard key sites? what's the next step after the regime collapses? >> well, i would certainly think the international atomic energy agency would need to be involved. they've already had too much access to at least certain elements of the program. i do think when it comes to counterproliferation, this administration has taken some risks that i would certainly not have advocated in the case of libya and the weapons proliferation that resulted, mostly conventional, luckily, because of their -- it turns out that the remainder of their cw stockpile which they had lied about to the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons was not transferred anywhere we know of. i think we're going to face a challenge in syria in the coming months, at least over the next year if the assad regime
collapses because syria's wmd capableities are much more extensive than those of libya. if you are concerned about counterproliferation you need to seriously consider whether it's some sort of international force, u.s. and allied special forces, but, yeah, i think there would probably need to be some sort of effort to secure sites. we can't have sites that are left open for terrorists to go in and get a variety of materials. in the case of syria, the administration has not seemed willing to really at least publicly talk about their options. there's been a press report or two about perhaps jordan providing troops. my guess is, though, that the scale of the problem in iran both with its nuclear sites and nuclear material and enriched uranium and chemical weapons arsenal would also necessitate international discussions. i don't think this is the sort of thing where the united states alone would be the only country concerned about what the aftermath of a regime change would look like. and is the sort of problem that
you have to deal with, whether this is a regime change brought about by some external reaction -- external action or from within. if we have political instability in iran, which is very likely in the coming years and the regime falls and we don't know who is in control, we'll have the same concerns. and they'll be watching the suspect sites very closely, i'm sure, at least from afar, monitoring what's going on and i'm sure there will be proposals debated when sending in teams to secure them, even if it's a regime change from within. this is not something directly related to external military action. >> just a quick comment. i think there's all sorts of reasons for wanting or wishing, hoping, praying, advocating for regime change in iran. one of them is certainly not that it would end the nuclear program. the nuclear program in iran started in 1976 with the shah, the staunchest ally of the u.s. in the region. iranian strategic interest in having a nuclear capability don't end with the end of the
regime. >> let's take, i think, two more questions and then we'll clean the whole table. we'll start with the gentleman here and then we'll go back in the back corner over there. >> my name is hassan. i was born in tehran. and i represent a global bridges for humanity. >> a little louder. >> louder? like this? >> okay. >> now i was here at the first panel, and heard the second panel and i've heard those gentlemen more than once. and the more i listen to our experts, it seems that united states is so impotent, cannot even do a little country with 75 million people which we claim they don't know anything, they don't know how to do this. they don't know how to do that. and then the only option that we are promoting is to bomb them. well, there's 75 million people.
and you want to bomb all of them? part of them? selected group of them? and what kind of a day kind of have after those bombs have fallen on the people of iran, which is 75 million. >> thank you. let's take the other one in the back corner and then we'll go all the way around the horn just to wrap up. >> thank you so much. i'm from the cato institute and thank you very much for a fantastic discussion. is there anything to the allegations of iranian influence in latin america, home grown sort of sleeper cells? we've heard this and it only whips up national hysteria. >> that would relate to mostly iran's ability to hit back and
the first question was mostly about how to stop things the day after, again et cetera. should we start with you and sweep back down. how about that? >> on the question of whether the u.s. is powerless to do something, the work i'm doing, i'm writing a book with a colleague, the work we're doing, what it indicates is that there's a pattern of proliferation. it states that the acquiring of nuclear weapons, acquiring nuclear weapons because there are already -- they are already significantly powerful before they have acquired the nuclear weapons which is the reason why we don't strike them. we considered it with the soviet union, couldn't do it. considered it with the chinese, couldn't do it. considered it with north korea, couldn't do it before we acquired nuclear weapons. there is, indeed u.s. power is very great but very limited because the costs of terminating the iranian program would be very high which is also why i don't think the difference we would have as a result of
iranian nuclear acquisition is very great because they already have to a great extent the capability to deter the west aggression. >> do you have any final thoughts? >> a couple of final thoughts. i was struck with your comment that the united states is impotent to do anything else except for bombing. i don't think that's true. i don't think the united states is impotent at all. the long standing u.s. policy objectives have been stability and security in the middle east and free flow of oil to market. we've been doing it and been doing it for a long time. iran simply does not have the wherewithal to close the strait. it can cause trouble but it cannot interrupt the flow of oil that would affect international markets for the long term. the u.s. navy is very good at re-opening the strait if it ever has to face that problem. we can do a lot of things. i think that sort of implicit debate between matt and jamie is interesting about whether or not this should be a limited strike only against nuclear program or if we should think about regime
change more broadly. strangely i disagree with both. all right. but in a weird way. i don't think that there's any scenario in which iranian leaders would see a limited strike as anything more than a prelude to an unlimited strike. u.s. behavior over the last decade has been about regime change. they've seen this. we did it in iraq. we did it in afghanistan. we helped to do it in libya despite the fact we made deals with gadhafi regarding his nuclear programs. so i think there is an argument for regime change but if you're going to make that argument you have to think very seriously about the long term consequences. and given that the whole argument is premised on the fact that iran has this large sprawling aggressive nuclear program, that would seem to me a call for a large substantial sustained occupation force.
we would have to be willing to take that risk. one last comment. do i think it's good we're thinking long term. most of the questions up to now have been, as i said earlier, these near term immediate operational questions. it's worthying about what the long term looks like. suppose i'm wrong. suppose that we can pull off a limited strike against iran's nuclear program. i think what we're left with in that case is an ugly unstable stalemate. iran would work very hard to rebuild its facilities, and would never have any reason to deal with the united states or the west and we would also lose our international partners who we've done a terrific job compiling up to now. if we don't act and if israel doesn't act what does the future look i like it looks like an unpleasant but livable stalemate that we can afford. >> do you have any closing thoughts? >> first i guess i would just disagree with josh's point that
limited strike would necessarily be a prelude to regime change. put yourself in the shoes of the iran supreme leader, your primary goal is to protect your regime and make sure the regime continues to exist and you wake up and your key nuclear fasts are destroyed. your military is intact. your instinct isn't to pick a fight with the united states and commit international suicide. a limited strike would result in limited retaliation that the united states could absorb and much less dangerous than living with a newark armed iran. on points of iran with influence in latin america. it's developing relationships with hugo chavez in venezuela and biolivy a and iran has sign nuclear agreements with both countries. this gets to the risk of technology transfer that i talked about before. it's entirely conceivable that iran could say venezuela is a
country in good standing in the npt. it has a right to peaceful nuclear technology. to help them with that we'll transfer nuclear enrichment technology so they can produce their own fuel and this is a real problem for the united states and u.s. nonproliferation policies all the issues we've been dealing with iran important the past decade would be in our backyard in venezuela and we would be dealing with that. i think there's a real risk. my colleagues said we can deter iran from doing all they nasty things including nuclear technical transfer. i don't think that's the case. what's the deterrent threat if iran jan says it will transfer technology to venezuela. will we use military force? we've been unwilling to use military force after we found pakistan was transferring nuclear technology, north korea was transferring nuclear technology. we haven't done it in the past. in this scenario iran has nuclear weapons. we'll fight a war against a nuclear armed state.
after we were unwilling to go to war with iran when it didn't happen with nuclear weapons i think that's one of the major problems with this deterrence and containment option we have no credibility. if we're unwilling to go to war with a newark iran nobody will be believe us we will use force against a nuclear armed iran. iran won't believe us. >> i want to respond to the gentleman in the front's point about the iranian people, i think it relates to a point that was made about the aftermath of regime change. i'm not advocating, i don't think anyone up here is advocating bombing the iranian people out of existence. i don't think you can argue the united states was bombing the libyan people or syrian people in the 1990s. iranian people support the current regime. my understanding of the iranian opposition and dicy den figures i've spoken to, there's not broad base support for the
current regime. the current regime will fall at some point it's just a matter of when and i do think if the military strike, series of strikes was done so in a targeted matter, civilian casualties could be kept to a minimum. and so, there may be some initial kind of rally around the flag notion inside the country but if it was made clear this was going after the regime and regime elements and elements like others that have been used against the iranian people, murdering the iranian people in the streets of tehran and other cities then i do think it would be easier for the united states and interests allies that were involved to make their case directly to the iranian people that this was in their long term interest. in terms of what would result or would emerge, certainly you could have some sort of coup, you could have a shake up where you got other hard liners in a regime that would be much worse than the current one across an array of u.s. interests and i think it's very difficult to argue that if you got to the point where you had a
democratically elected government that followed that it would want to continue under this crippling yoke placed on the country of sanctions. first thing they want to do is repair the economy and bring back iran into the community of nations. they would certainly want to negotiate in good faith unlike this current regime and so then you could have discussions about what exact nuclear capabilities they could be trusted to maintain given their past programs but i think it's much easier for the u.n. and other countries to have those sorts of negotiations with a democratically elected government. >> we encourage everyone to continue the discussion upstairs over diet cokes and sandwiches. so thank you very much. [ applause ]